Fund That Aids Latino Immigrants Celebrates Progress of a Decade
For a growing number of Latino immigrants in Princeton, Trenton, and other parts of Mercer County, the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) has provided much-needed assistance in everything from learning English to finding proper health care.
It has been a decade since a group of Princeton citizens calling themselves the Latin American Task Force decided to incorporate as a public charity. But the organization, started by local residents including Anne Reeves, founding director of the Arts Council of Princeton; Ryan Lilienthal, immigration attorney; and representatives from Princeton Friends Meeting, had already been helping the town’s Latino community for years. They reorganized in response to growing alienation faced by Latino residents due to an increased level of immigration enforcement after 9/11.
These days, LALDEF operates out of the Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton and a community center in Trenton’s Chambersburg neighborhood. Through its programs, more than 1,000 children and adults have gotten access to preventive health care and immunizations, Latino students have been mentored as they transition from high school to college, English and computer skills have been taught, and assistance in filing tax returns has been given.
A $25,000 grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation (PACF) has helped LALDEF with recent initiatives. “As with all of our grants and grantees, we saw important work being done for people in our community, by good and competent people,” said Nancy Kieling, PACF outgoing president, at the reception on Monday. “It’s hard to build a grass roots organization from the ground up. It’s wonderful to see, with this 10 year celebration, that it has worked.”
LALDEF chairman Patricia Fernandez-Kelly said she is most proud of the organization’s Community ID Card program, which has issued identification cards to some 7,000 residents allowing them to access basic services. Speaking to the assembled crowd, executive director Maria Juega recalled the founding of the organization. “Our collective distress about the senseless unfairness of it all” was a motivator. “It was a very personal commitment each one of us had to do,” she said “We were dismayed and wanted to raise our voices.”
Ms. Fernandez-Kelly said that the celebration was held at Mediterra because of a longstanding relationship between LALDEF and the restaurant’s owners, Carlo and Raoul Momo. “They have been so helpful to us,” she said. “This is capitalism that does well by doing good.”